Down two of their main rotation guards in Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo, the Los Angeles Lakers were in need of players to step up. Head coach Frank Vogel inserted Kentavious Caldwell-Pope into the starting lineup, and more is expected of Alex Caruso, along with Kyle Kuzma and Dion Waiters.
Though Caldwell-Pope hasn’t been great in the Lakers’ first two seeding games, Caruso and the rest of the bench unit have stepped up in a major way. Despite the Lakers falling short against game the Toronto Raptors, it was in no part due to the reserves who tallied 50 of the Lakers’ 92 points on the night.
Kuzma led the bench with 16 points, while Caruso added 11 points and three steals and Waiters also added 12 points. For the second game in a row the Lakers’ bench showed they can make an impact and Frank Vogel had praise for all three of his top reserves.
“You’ve got three guys that can all shoot and put the ball on the floor and attack the paint,” Vogel said prior to the game.
“If they’re playing the right way, trying to touch the paint, playing extra pass basketball, they do a lot of things offensively. We’ve just got to make sure we defend on the other end since we’re fairly small, but that group did a good job with that the other night.”
Vogel also specifically mentioned Caruso and Caldwell-Pope of being expected to see significant time on the court. “I’m also cognizant of trying to get Alex and KCP comfortable playing bigger roles,” he added.
“Obviously, those guys are going to pick up a little bit of the slack defensively, with Avery being out. I want them both comfortable playing 20-plus minutes.”
While defense and hustle is the calling card for Caruso, the same can’t be said for Waiters and Kuzma, but both have worked hard on that end so far. Kuzma did an excellent job in trying to contain Kawhi Leonard against the Clippers and Waiters hasn’t been a negative on that end of the floor either.
As far as playmaking goes, Vogel has been very satisfied with what Caruso has done. “He’s done a good job improving with that throughout most of the year,” Vogel said following the loss. “Like we’ve been talking about, he’s looking at a potentially bigger role. Our whole group was out of rhythm when he had those two turnovers. He’s done a terrific job for us and he’ll be fine.”
Waiters has also played a large role in the Lakers’ playmaking not falling off while Kuzma has been exactly what the Lakers need off the bench. One thing that is for sure is that the Lakers have the necessary depth and if their reserves continue to play at this level, they will be difficult to beat in a series.
Vogel praises Kyle Kuzma’s defense
Kuzma came into the league and immediately established himself as an NBA-level scorer, but the rest of his game has been called into question over the years. One thing that has never been doubted is his work ethic and desire to improve in every facet of the game.
Kuzma has worked hard to do so defensively and that showed itself in the Lakers’ win over the Clippers where he did a more than serviceable job in trying to contain Leonard, earning nothing but praise from his head coach.
“He was exceptional tonight. He’s had some other strong performances this year, so I don’t know if it was the best. It’s right up there with one of those,” Vogel said. “In particular, when when was switched on to Kawhi he had some really good possessions and helped us get stops.
“He works really hard on that end. Certain matchups are more favorable for him, but he was terrific tonight. Like you said, when we put A.D. at the 5, if he can perform like that on the defensive end, we’re going to win a lot of game.”
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